A Clear Message: Back Off
Terry H. Schwadron
Aug. 4, 2022
The unusual emotional lift was as noticeable Tuesday night as the practical effects of the urgent message sent by voters in conservative Kansas scolding the most extreme anti-abortion forces to Back Off.
The surprisingly emphatic majority that rejected an undoubtably sneaky plan to change the state’s constitution to outlaw abortion astounded both by electoral certainty on an issue made confused by the campaigning and by the size of the turnout in hot August for a primary vote.
For me, the biggest takeaway and the source of the emotional surge was a ray of hope for rational consideration of a runaway issue that has split the nation.
It was a reminder that voters can indeed speak forcefully. It was a statement that the extreme is usually not the answer, regardless of problem.
We shouldn’t stand by as civil rights are swept away by a new, right-wing Supreme Court majority. We shouldn’t accept Republican legislative efforts not only to limit abortions, but to promise to criminalize medical operations, force births from victims of rape and incest, or to incent vigilante enforcement of faith-based legal reasoning.
It was at once a foot-stamp for individual rights, and for choice, even if your choice is to turn away from abortions. That message towards moderation that we should pray that lawmakers in Republican-majority legislatures will hear distinctly before joining the rush to ban abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage, and a host of issues that originate with a Supreme Court-rejected legal reliance on constitutional privacy.
Anger was indeed on the ballot. The vigor, nature, money that marked this vote over abortion rights signal that culture war issues rank with inflation in our voting attitudes.
If Kansas was a litmus test of the importance of the abortion issue, those running for office or serving in state capitals and Washington ought to pay a lot more attention.
Studying the Results
The results no doubt will be studied by politicians and other states, will be reviewed for more clues as to voters’ makeup and behaviors, for splits between rural and urban areas, for example, and the apparent decisive vote in suburbs.
It was clear, for example, that Democrats alone, or young people alone were not responsible for the size of the majority; independents and Republicans had to have joined in the rejection effort. It was just as clear that the November elections will look a bit different with recognition that culture issues indeed do draw an anti-MAGA vote.
There should be no problem in expectations that if red-state Kansas can produce these results with voter rolls exploding since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, anti-abortion forces ought to rethink their automated, smug desires to impose rules that defy medical needs as well as women’s rights.
Voter registration boomed in Kansas after the abortion decision, and this turnout skewed all the polling that had predicted a close vote, even a small victory for anti-abortionists. Three times as many advance ballots were returned in this primary as compared with 2018. The turnout defied the planning by Republican lawmakers who had decided to conduct this vote during an August primary with expected low numbers of voters.
In the state legislature, Republicans had said they were locked and loaded on pre-written legislation ready to ban abortion once this vote on a constitutional amendment went their way.
Outcome notwithstanding, it was an ugly campaign. Throughout, it seemed problematic whether this was a referendum on abortion itself, pitting medicine against moral views, or a legitimate debate about preserving rights ripped away by courts.
Even before the vote, it was clear that there was confusion about exactly what voting Yes or No meant. The measure to reverse a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court decision, which ruled that the state’s constitution includes a right to abortion. But it was written in a way designed to confuse.
Political and information spinning was out of control; on the day before the vote, texts went out from anti-abortion groups went out advising choice opponents to vote the opposite way from the listed ballot item. Campaign money flowed like water, including a million bucks from the Catholic Church to anti-abortion groups.
In 2021, 60% of Kansas voters told pollsters they did not want an absolute ban on abortion. With this vote, it is clear there is pushback against mandates that deny the possibility of abortion even under medically prescribed circumstances for ill mothers or rape and incest victims. In recent years, Kansas have had about 12,000 abortions a year, serving as a regional haven as surrounding states have barred abortion.
Even with this vote, no one is forcing women to get abortions.
It was curious that the Kansas rejection of any abortion ban, certainly a newsworthy development regardless of political viewpoint, was not prominently reflected in Fox News.com, Newsmax or OANN.
States with pending legislation to limit or bar abortions like Pennsylvania, or those with bills to preserve rights like Michigan, Vermont and California, should be paying attention. Meanwhile, there was still silence among Senate Republicans who resist bills codifying rights for abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage.
This vote spoke loudly enough even for them to hear.